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Posted January 16, 2014 | comments Leave a comment

County unveils redesigned website

By Alex Bridges

WOODSTOCK -- Shenandoah County's new website went online Thursday after months of work on the redesign and staff training.

The website features one-click links to go to pages and conduct business with the county, such as pay bills, obtain permits, see tourism and parks and recreation activities, and look up property information. Under the links, visitors will see announcements for upcoming government meetings, information on business hours and contacts, and a section on the Board of Supervisors.

The board saw a preview of the website at its meeting on Tuesday by a representative from Refresh Web Design and Internet Marketing LLC. The county contracted with the Richmond-based firm to redesign the government website at a cost of $19,620 plus a social media presence for $750.

County Administrator Mary Beth Price said last year as the firm began its work that "reasonable" cost pays for more than just a new look for the website. The price included training for staff members who would eventually take more control of the site's content.

On Thursday, Patrick Felling, county planner with the Office of Community Development, showed how the web hosting service, WordPress, lets staff update department pages.

"When we were looking at vendors to help us refresh our website, since we did want to distribute editing to the different offices, we felt it was very important that it be user-friendly," Felling said. "If each office had to edit HTML code, I think that would create a big hurdle."

Community Development employee Meghan Gum, who trained on the software, worked on updating the department's page Thursday.

"It works better for our department," Gum said. "A lot of people go on our website to print off our applications and to find resources."

She noted that it takes visitors a couple clicks to use the website.

"And then you're there," Gum said. "It's real easy. I enjoy it. I like it better."

Felling pointed out that the homepage focuses on getting users to where they want to go fast. The links to various services were determined by what people were using most, Felling said.

County officials are still monitoring the site for any bugs or unforeseen issues.

WordPress rose to the top as a user-friendly system, Felling said. The system lets each department take control of its own pages on the site, he noted. WordPress also allowed the designers to create forms the departments wanted to include on their individual pages.

At the same time, each page shows continuity and uniformity, Felling said.

The county hadn't updated its website in about five or six years. The county had used a separate vendor to host its website. Before the update, the county relied on the limited number of people in its information technology department. Budget Manager Garland Miller also worked on the website.

The contracted firm now hosts the website at a cost of $350 per year, according to information from Price.

The website crashed last year and the incident forced county staff to restore the information it lost. As Felling explained, WordPress automatically saves information as histories. If a crash occurs and current information is lost, data can be retrieved.

"We may lose some small updates, but we'd have the bulk of the material and we'd have it available," Felling said. "That was actually a huge problem ... when the website did go down. We did not have good access to our backed up data because the firm that we'd hired to do that didn't follow through as we had hoped that they would."

Visit the county website at http://shenandoahcountyva.us/.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com


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